by Rick Harpster
In early March of 2009, a small group of local North Myrtle Beach residents gathered on a Central Park tennis court on a cool spring morning. Fran Jenkins had invited each of them to join her to learn a new sport from Joe Gullo, a snow bird from upstate New York. It was pickleball.
The early players of the game in North Myrtle Beach would chalk the tennis court with the pickleball court lines and play for several hours each day using the tennis net as a substitute for a pickleball net. As with many good things, word of the game began to spread throughout the Grand Strand, and more people showed up to learn the game.
From that meager beginning, the game has taken the Grand Strand by storm. It has spread throughout the area and is now played at public recreation centers and outdoors on converted tennis courts or dedicated pickleball courts in many communities along the Strand.
There are currently about 80 public or semi-private, indoor or outdoor pickleball courts in Horry County. It is expected that this number will exceed 100 in less than two years. As golf courses continue to close, it will not be long before there will be more pickleball courts along the Strand than golf courses.
The game originated on Bainbridge Island, Washington in the mid ’60s. Joel Pritchard, a former U.S. Representative for the State of Washington and a couple of his friends created the game in the summer of 1965.
Returning home after playing a round of golf, Joel and his golfing buddies found their families bored on Saturday afternoon. Fabricating paddles out of wood, using a baseball whiffle ball, and by lowering the net on their badminton court, the game was born.
The Strand has two Pickleball clubs that have formed in recent years. The North Myrtle Beach Pickleball Association (NMBPA) and the Carolina Coastal Pickleball Club (CCPC) represent over 800 players. These two organizations promote tournaments, leagues, conduct fundraising activities, and organize social activities for members.
In September 2019 these local clubs hosted two Pickleball Tournaments— the Paddle at the Beach Pickleball Tournament at the J. Bryan Floyd Community Center and the USAPA Mid-Atlantic Regional Pickleball Tournament at the North Myrtle Beach Sports Center— which brought in over 600 players from various states along the East Coast.
In addition to the tournaments, many visitors to the Grand Strand that play the game are seeking out local pickleball venues such as the J. Bryan Floyd Community Center in North Myrtle Beach, on a daily basis to play. Pickleball is quickly becoming one of the activities that tourists seek for family enjoyment during their stay at the beach.
Pickleball is a healthy, fun, and exciting game for all members of the family, and the Grand Strand is the vacation hot spot for pickleball on the Southeast Coast.
For a list of locations to play along the Grand Strand, visit www.places2play.org.